Peddling dangerous drugs to faltering countries has made many a developing nation great. The British sold opium to the Chinese at gunpoint. The American colonies got the British hooked on tobacco. And now Mexico floods the U.S. with the drug du jour. Philip Caputo’s novel Some Rise by Sin concerns one battle in the so-called “war on drugs,” down Mexico way.
Its main character could have walked out of Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory. Riordan is an American missionary priest tending to the flock of a place called San Patricio. He likes his tipple, drives a Harley and reads Marcus Aurelius. He is also acrophobic in a country where drug cartels are liable to toss people off cliffs. Joining Riordan in San Patricio are two American lovers, Pamela and Lisette. Pamela is a bipolar artist on various medications; Lisette a doctor. Both seem even more out of place in Mexico than Riordan, who gets into trouble when a hired assassin admits her crime during confession. Riordan must consider breaking his vows of confidentiality. In another nod to Greene, he dwells on the “problem of evil,” viz. how a benevolent Creator allows malevolence.
Caputo does not bog down in theology. His novel is one of action, recalling nothing so much as “Breaking Bad.” But Some Rise by Sin does offer the occasional insight. Caputo points out that the surge in Mexican immigration to the U.S. resulted from NAFTA; the treaty flooded Mexico with cheap American produce, displacing Mexicans from their farms. And Caputo seems aware of the irony that Riordan, in the crosshairs of the drug war, is a fan of tequila and Ambien.
The overall lesson of the novel is a powerful one: Economics trumps morality in shaping the fate of nations.